The Subaru Outback boasts many titles: dependable, rugged, and hopefully muddy, but for three months, Paal Bredal and Amara Gamache simply called it home.
Paal is a tall, energetic guy in his 20s from Victor, Idaho where he grew up climbing, skiing, canoeing, and envisioning himself summiting peak after peak. During his time as a kid in Victor, he had a notebook with a list of peaks he hoped to summit one day—in February 2021, he decided to do just that. Soon after Amara caught wind of the expedition she was ready to roll – daydreaming of camp stove dinners and hiking boots. Growing up in Yakima, Washington, Amara fell in love with the outdoors just like Paal. When she was not hiking, climbing, or skiing, she was mastering free diving with her dad. Hearts and minds racing, the two adventurous spirits began planning, aiming for 11 of the west’s highest peaks: Mount Rainier, Mount Hood, Borah Peak, Granite Peak, Boundary Peak, Mount Whitney, Humphrey’s Peak, Wheeler Peak, Mount Elbert, Kings Peak, and Gannett Peak.
When asked what his inspiration for the journey was, Paal stated, “I wanted to go all across the Western United States, the great internship to the outdoors, and I always wanted to live in a car”…“We were bumming with a purpose”, Amara chimed in. Each year, more and more people throw miscellaneous gear and snacks into cars and hit the road. They are looking for just what these two explorers found – new experiences and a connection with the planet’s natural wonders. But the American infatuation with nature runs deeper than a sense of exploration. It is also a place for people to connect with themselves; vast pine forests and craggy mountains offer a kind of therapy that simply cannot be found in any other place.
Funding The Road Trip
In the month leading up to their departure, Paal and Amara worked tirelessly saving money to fund the pending wild goose chase of mountains and trails. They worked for a month on a farm in Yakima, Washington that grows hops, apples, and strawberries. Amara worked in the office handling day-to-day operations for some of the workers, and Paal got his hands dirty… literally. Alongside a few seasoned workers, he cleaned the hops processing warehouse, a difficult and exhausting job. Between the grind of their one-month work stint and the heat of Yakima Valley, Paal and Amara were ready to hit the road and leave the apple orchards and hills of yellow grass behind. Before heading out they threw together a makeshift bed in the back of Paal’s car – a wooden platform topped with camping pads and a three-inch foam mattress; with the rest of their belongings piled in like any true nomad wagon.
Let The Summiting Begin
The expedition started with a safety measure in the form of a crevasse rescue and glacier travel course taken on Mount Baker, giving Paal and Amara the skills they needed to be safe on their journey. “As glaciers flow downhill, the slopes of the mountain change. The sheet of ice breaks and cracks as it moves across different slope angles in addition to the melting. The cracks are like ripples in a very, very slow-moving river, and these ripples are known as crevasses,” Paal explained. Crevasses can range from 65 feet wide and almost 150 feet deep to hundreds of meters long with similar depths. Falling into a crevasse often leads to serious injury and in many cases death, so Paal and Amara made safety a first priority. “Our training was mostly focused on safely traversing glaciers and how to rescue yourself or your partner from inside a crevasse. [To learn], we were lowered into a very deep crevasse [and began to] build a pulley system using ice screws or ice axes as anchors in the ice.”
After 3 days of intensive training on Mount Baker, Amara and Paal were able to embark on their journey. If you plan to summit peaks like Paal and Amara it’s vital that you receive similar training. Knowing how to interact with a mountain will keep you and your partner/s safe throughout your travels.
Two days later, they met up with a couple of friends and found themselves gearing up for their first summit, Mount Rainier in the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest. “All the major climbs I had done before Rainier were with my dad, and I don’t think I have ever been as excited as when we got to the crater rim of the mountain. It was a real test of my skills, a top moment for me”, Paal recalled. There’s a sense of accomplishment that comes from doing something truly hard, pushing yourself past the limit, creating a new benchmark, and establishing a new goal to strive toward. Paal found just that as he gazed off the mountain, exhausted but euphoric.
With the first peak under their belts, Amara and Paal jumped back in their Subaru and left the Pacific Northwest behind, letting the road unfold before them. In the proceeding weeks, they hustled up Bora Peak, climbed house-sized boulders in the City of Rocks, kissed the top of Boundary Peak, and landed about 100 miles south of Mammoth Lakes, California at the pedestal of Mount Whitney.
Not all travel goes according to plan and troubles will find you along the way. You might misplace a camping permit, leave your jacket at a rest stop, or forget to pack those extra batteries. You also might lock your keys in the car like Paal and Amara.
If the dusty bunch of keys and carabiners could see, it would have described Paal peering into the driver’s seat window, laughing and shaking his head. Luckily for these road trippers, a lonely café nestled into the corner of this parking lot had just the tools they needed to break into their rolling home. After an hour and a half of jimmying, prying, cursing, and tugging the lock popped and the door swung open. All part of the fun. While the two adventurers performed locksmith duties on their four-wheel safe haven, the next peak in their sights slipped away. Between inaccessible climbing permits and lofty fines for climbing without, California’s Mount Whitney would have to wait. To supplement the missed opportunity to climb this 14,500 ft. peak, they chose the next best thing and crossed the desert, eyes fixed on Las Vegas and the strip.
Time To Climb
After multiple weeks of sleeping on what Amara described as “wood, but comfortable wood”, both she and Paal were ready for a real bed. They cashed out and got a hotel room on the Las Vegas strip, “at this point, it was over two weeks in the car, [we walked into] this five-star Vegas hotel and we walked in looking like total dirtbags,” Amara told me through chuckles. After Paal lost some money and the two spent the night taking in the lights and fountains that Vegas has to offer, they were ready to move again. They redeployed through the Grand Canyon, Wheeler Peak in New Mexico, Denver to rock climb, a two-day trip up King’s Peak in Utah, and finally landed in Teton Valley at Paal’s childhood home to prepare for the beast. Gannett Peak is the highest peak in Wyoming, boasting 13,804 feet of elevation and a brutal multi-day trip to the summit. Four nights – three to get in, and one to get out. The mountaineers took their time getting in, camping on riverbeds and under trees that, with the influence of a light warm breeze, mirrored their own form of slow dancing in the moonlight. The final day of Gannett took them nearly 14 hours and spanned about 27 miles. When they finally reached the light blue Subaru, Amara “crawled into the back of the car and didn’t say a word,” basking in silence after the grueling journey, providing the opportunity to reflect on the feelings of deep accomplishment and a renewed sense of self.
What A Road Trip Can Do For You
Whether you want a weekend away or a summer of searching for paths in the woods, a road trip might just be exactly what you need. The road can give you a new lens to see the world, teaching you about the pristine wilderness that the planet has to offer and aspects about yourself you may have forgotten or misplaced. Long hikes will push you to new levels of accomplishment and bring out parts of yourself you didn’t know were there. You will find enjoyment from simple things like laughing until you cry and watching the steam rise off a cup of coffee in the crisp cool morning hours. By its nature, a road trip ushers you from your home base and leaves you running wild from the forgotten stressors of everyday life. Oftentimes, when we’re caught up in the mundane of the regular world, our anxieties creep up and get the best of us and what we’re capable of. Taking a step outside and into nature is often the medicine that we need to reset and detach from those moments of self-doubt; take it from Amara, for example, “One thing I learned that immediately comes to mind is that I am stronger than I think I am. It almost took me to the end of the trip to look back and see that I did all of it while telling myself that I couldn’t.” She found a new sense of confidence in herself; one she did not know was missing. Paal, on the other hand, found perspective, “You are on the outside of everything, you are a wanderer, doing your own thing gives you a lot of clarity. You have to make yourself, yourself, because otherwise, you won’t find what you are looking for.” Paal’s final note was to be sure to avoid putting too much pressure on your trip; to not expect the whole journey to be this big, crazy, exciting adventure all day every day, but to also expect slow moments too. You will wonder what you are doing and why, but that’s part of the experience.
Tips and Takeaways For Readers
Paal and Amara had a truly incredible trip and what kept them going throughout was not having a perfect plan or the perfect gear; instead, it was being able to adapt when their plan went awry. As they moved, Paal and Amara allowed their plan to be a guideline rather than a strict rule. There is a lot to learn from their journey that contributed to their success – find some tips and tricks on how they executed their journey below:
- Be Clear: It is vitally important that you and your road-tripping-buddies have a good idea of what the journey will entail. What’s the goal? Where are you going? Why? Answering these questions will help everyone involved have the best experience possible.
- Budget: Running out of gas money in the middle of Utah might not be your idea of a good time. To avoid this, make sure to create a rough budget for things like food and gas – canned soup is a go to when trying to cut costs for an excursion. Excel can be the perfect tool for laying out costs you might stumble across throughout your journey.
- Music: It usually goes without saying but is worth mentioning here – if you are road tripping you will spend lots of time in the car and if you do not entertain yourself you could go a little crazy. My advice here, as you plan for a trip do not forget to begin crafting the ultimate playlist of tunes and podcasts. Music may just be the ultimate device for curating the perfect mood or vibe as you fly down the Pacific Highway or tumble across Route 66.
- Gather the Right Gear: Remembering to pack a great rain jacket might just be the difference between an incredible day hiking in the rain and an unhappy afternoon spent cold and damp. Packing the correct clothing is key, so keep an eye on the weather for the places you plan to travel and pack accordingly. Aside from clothing you will need to consider things like eating and sleeping. Will you need a hammock, a tent, a camp stove, a camping pot? Spend some time looking into what people who stayed in the past have done. There are lots of guides that are place-specific and outdoor stores can be very good resources as well. For example, the employees at REI offer a wealth of knowledge just waiting to be tapped into and are always happy to help.
- Be Ready for Unplanned Events: The only guarantee on a road trip is that it will not go exactly as planned. It is principal that you prepare for the unexpected… but how? There are a few key tips to always keep in mind: keep your gas tank full, avoid driving at night, know how to change a tire, take driving breaks, and be flexible to plan changes.
Now get outside, and happy road tripping!
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